While you may not need to break out the snow chains yet, a mild drop in temperature can mean trouble for your car. As the mercury dips, your engine’s components kick into overdrive, dealing with extra pressure that can cause old or worn components to fail.
But fear not!
We’ll explore eight essential car care tips to protect your vehicle from winter damage, the steps you can take if your car breaks down, and maintenance costs.
This Article Contains:
- 8 Important Winter Car Care Tips to Keep You Safe in the Cold
- How Much Do Winter Car Maintenance Services Cost?
- What to Do in Case Your Car Breaks Down?
8 Important Winter Car Care Tips to Keep You Safe in the Cold
Whether you cruise in a sports or a classic car, the frosty temperatures are no friend for a smooth driving experience.
That’s where proper winter car storage steps in.
But we get it — some car owners (like those who own passenger cars) might not be itching to tuck their vehicles away in storage.
So, if car storage isn’t on the cards, use these eight nifty winter car care tips to keep those engines purring in the chilly breeze!
1. Check Your Lights
The key to staying safe on winter roads is to have good road visibility and be easily visible to other drivers.
With daylight hours diminishing over the colder months, your reliance on your car’s lighting increases, and you must ensure all your lights are in good condition.
Here’s what you should do:
- Check all the lights (including your interior lights) to confirm everything works as it should.
- Inspect your headlight lenses for any cracks, yellowing, or signs of wear.
- Ensure that your headlight beams are set at the same level and are not uneven.
- Examine the seals around the light to eliminate the risk of water getting into the light and short-circuiting your electrical system.
2. Top-up All Automotive Fluids
If the engine oil is too thin, it won’t provide the necessary protection, whereas if it’s too thick, it may start to thicken and prevent the engine from starting.
So what do you do?
It’s generally recommended to use synthetic multi-grade oils as they are wax-free and demonstrate better cold-flow properties. Most motorists also switch to a lighter viscosity oil before the winter season. Your mechanic can advise you if this is necessary based on where you live and your vehicle type.
Before winter arrives, ensure your car’s coolant level is sufficient, and inspect the engine components for any leaks that might lead to coolant loss. Many mechanics advise using a 50/50 mix of coolant and water in the radiator. This mixture typically lowers the engine’s freezing point more effectively than using only water to keep your engine cool.
Tip: You can also find 50/50 pre-mixed antifreeze or coolant in the market that doesn’t require any mixing.
3. Test Your Battery
In colder months, the car battery’s internal electrochemical reaction, responsible for creating an electrical charge, slows down and diminishes the battery’s performance.
While a new car battery can provide adequate current in temperatures up to -76°F, any battery with a diminished state of charge is at risk of freezing at 32°F. Once the water in a battery freezes and expands, it can cause irreparable damage to the cells.
The easiest way to ensure your battery is winter-ready is to ask your mechanic to perform a health check. They’ll measure the voltage and check the charging system to ensure your car battery is up to the task.
4. Prep Your Tires
If you live in an area with moderate winter weather, you might not need snow tires, but winter tires do perform better than other tires in cold weather conditions. They can offer more traction on slippery roads.
Tire manufacturers suggest swapping your summer tires with a winter tire set if the temperatures dip below 45°F.
If your local law allows, you can also install snow chains on your snow tires to improve traction on icy roads and heavy snow. In fact, many states in the US, such as California, Nevada, Idaho, etc, mandate the use of winter tire chains in snowy weather.
Regardless of whether your vehicle has summer or winter tires, they should be checked regularly to ensure they’re in good condition, eliminating the risk of a blowout.
While checking your tires, make sure they:
- Are free of cuts, punctures, bulges, and scratches
- Show signs of even wear across the entire tire
- Have tread depth that is not worn down to their wear indicators (more than 2/32”)
- Are inflated to the correct tire pressure
But how can you check your tire pressure?
You’ll need a tire gauge for this.
That said, tire pressure may vary among vehicles of different makes, models, and brands. Refer to your car’s owner’s manual to determine the correct tire pressure for winter tires.
Note: As the temperature drops, you may notice that your tire pressure has also changed – a temperature drop of 10°F will change tire pressure by 1 PSI.
5. Check Your Windshield Wipers and Wiper Fluid
With winter weather comes an increased chance of rain, snow, or a winter storm. These extreme cold weather conditions can reduce visibility on the road and may even lead to accidents.
The best way to ensure your on-road safety is to perform a quick inspection of your wiper blades and windshield for signs of wear, such as:
- Worn rubber edges, cracks, or splits on the windshield wiper blade
- Streaks on the windshield
- Squeaking or chattering noise while using the windshield wiper
If you notice any of these signs — your winter wiper blades need replacement.
While you inspect your windshield wiper, checking on your windshield washers and washer fluid is a good idea. Test them to ensure the jets aren’t blocked, and refill the windshield washer fluid if needed.
6. Inspect Your Heater and Defroster
Our trusty heater and defroster work tirelessly to keep us toasty inside and sweep away icy chills and fog from our windshields.
The key to keeping them functional is regular maintenance.
However, there are several reasons why these components may stop working, some of which will also affect your engine’s performance. These include:
- Contaminated or old coolant that needs to be flushed
- A stuck thermostat
- Blocked heater core
- Cooling system leak
- Faulty heater fan
- Blown fuses
These are all problems that require very different repairs, so if your car heater or front or rear windshield defroster isn’t working as well as it should, your mechanic can pinpoint the problem.
7. Ensure Your Gas Tank Is at Least Half Full
In cold temperatures, condensation can form inside an empty or near-empty gas tank.
This moisture can then drip into the fuel lines and mix with the gasoline, causing the fuel line to freeze. On the other hand, a fuller gas tank can act as a natural insulator and help prevent fuel lines from freezing.
Moreover, if you get stranded or stuck in winter weather, having a full tank ensures that you have enough gas to keep the engine running and the heater on until help arrives.
8. Prepare a Winter Emergency Kit
The only thing worse than your car breaking down is breaking down on a quiet road in freezing temperatures. For the unprepared, a simple breakdown can become a survival situation.
When this happens, a car doubles as shelter, and having a well-stocked emergency kit can save your life.
Although you can purchase a pre-made winter emergency kit from the market, you’ll probably find most of the items on the list in your house. All you need to do is gather them up and store them in your car in case of any roadside emergency.
Here are some things to include in your winter emergency kit:
- Flashlight or lantern
- A warm hat
- Small shovel
- Ice scraper
- Road salt
- Non-perishable snacks such as energy bars
- Bottled water
- First aid kit
- Matches or cigarette lighter
- Jumper cables
- Reflective warning triangle
- Toilet paper
- Multi-tool like a Leatherman or Swiss Army Knife
While harsh weather conditions can severely damage your vehicle, the tips mentioned above and a pre-winter visit to a mechanic will prepare you for the challenges the winter season brings along.
It’s also a good idea to check how much the winter car maintenance services can cost.
How Much Do Winter Car Maintenance Services Cost?
The cost of winter car maintenance services can vary depending on your location and the services needed.
Here are the cost estimates for some of these top-ups and replacements:
- Windshield wiper fluid: $3 to $80
- Engine oil replacement: $50 to $200
- Car battery replacement: $60 to $400
- Winter or snow tires: $50 to $1300 per tire
- Brake fluid replacement: $80 to $130
Does your car insurance cover winter-related damage?
If yes, visit your car insurance provider to understand the coverage and do some cost savings.
Despite the precautions and pre-emptive repairs, your vehicle might still experience a breakdown or become unfit to drive while braving the harsh weather.
Let’s look at a few things you must do when that happens.
What to Do in Case Your Car Breaks Down?
Sub zero temperatures and poor lighting conditions can make a breakdown particularly hazardous, but the risk can be mitigated with some preparation.
Here are the steps you can take for your safety:
- Before heading out, ensure that you have the phone numbers of emergency roadside services stored in your phone.
- If you’re traveling a long distance or along isolated roads, it’s a good idea to let people know where you’re going and update them once you have arrived.
- In the event of a breakdown, call for help immediately and use your emergency kit. Grab a blanket, food, water, and the first aid kit. Keep your ice scraper handy in case your windshield or windows freeze.
- Ensure your car is off the icy roads as much as possible, and activate your head and tail lights to ensure your car is visible to other motorists.
Get Your Car Winter-Ready
A cold winter month brings challenges like icy roads and freezing temperatures, so prioritizing car care becomes essential.
Start by checking tire tread depth and pressure. Also, inspect antifreeze levels, assess battery health, and maintain windshield components for improved visibility and safe winter driving.
Feels too much of a task?
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